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When Paul Grasped the Reality of the Body (Acts 9:1-5)

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What kind of images comes to mind when you think of the church? Maybe you think of it as a building, a business, an employer, or an institution.

Of course, three out of those four aren’t New Testament images (cf. Eph 2:21), and the fact that we think of the church in those ways (e.g., the pastor as a CEO) speaks to how far we’ve departed from the Biblical model.

So what is a Biblical image of the church?

Paul compares it to a body—to Christ’s body.

In fact, for Paul, that seems to be more than a mere image, but a reality. We are united to Christ and Him to us.

As I understand it, this union includes having a common life (i.e., everlasting life, John 11:25; 14:6; Gal 2:20; Phil 1:21; Col 3:4), as well as a common function, with believers acting like body parts, and Christ is our head.

I think I know when Paul first began to learn about the reality of the union between Christ and His body. It was on the road to Damascus…

Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul said.

“I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied (Acts 9:1-5).

Who was Paul persecuting? Jesus.

When Paul was forcibly dragging Christians from their homes, he laid hands on Christ.

As he tore apart families and sent believers off for judgment, he persecuted the Lord.

What a terrible realization!

What an astonishing truth!

In one sense, Christ’s sufferings were finished on the cross for our salvation. But in another sense, Paul learned that Christ’s sufferings continue through the persecution of His body. That helps to explain the meaning of this puzzling comment:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church (Col 1:24).

Whatever else we might say about that verse, it surely emphasizes the union between Christ as His body. As F. F. Bruce explains it, “Christ continues to suffer in His members, not least in Paul himself” (Ephesians and Colossians, p. 216).

When you bump your little toe against a corner, your brain knows all about it.

Something similar is true in the spiritual life—When you suffer for Christ, the Head not only knows about it but He’s afflicted with you.

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